WEISS, JULIUS (ca. 1840–?). Julius Weiss, the German music professor who gave Scott Joplin, the King of Ragtime, his earliest formal music education, was born in Saxony between June 4, 1840, and June 3, 1841. Weiss was one of an inestimable number of itinerant German musicians who prepared the cultural soil in Texas for later development of symphony orchestras and opera companies. His approximate birthdate is extrapolated from the 1880 United States census and contemporary recollections.
Nothing is known conclusively about his education, but that he was a well-educated man is attested by the subjects other than music in which he tutored in Texarkana (German, astronomy, mathematics). He taught both piano and violin and had extensive knowledge and enthusiasm for opera, a fact that probably indicates some conservatory background in his training as well. No precise date can be determined when Weiss made his way to the U.S., but he was in St. Louis by the late 1870s, when Col. Robert W. Rodgers hired him to be a music teacher and live-in tutor for his six children in Texarkana, Texas. Rodgers was a successful lumbermill owner and businessman in Texarkana.
Weiss arrived in Texarkana between August 1877 and December 1878. He remained in the town until shortly after Rodgers's death in 1884. In Texarkana, Weiss befriended the young Scott Joplin and taught him piano, ear training, and harmony, and introduced him to the world of classical music, especially opera. Weiss probably helped the Joplins get the Rodgers family's old square piano when the lumberman bought a new one. According to recollections of his wife, Joplin fondly remembered his old German music teacher in later years. He even sent Weiss money after moving to New York in 1907. Weiss was surely the inspiration for Scott Joplin's quest to continue his musical education in later years and to use his ragtime style in conjunction with such larger musical genres as ballet and opera. The influence of mid-nineteenth-century German operatic style and forms is especially noticeable in Joplin's opera, Treemonisha, a work with which he was occupied in the last years of his life.
The straitened circumstances of the Rodgers family after the death of Colonel Rodgers forced Weiss to leave Texarkana. Nothing is known about his whereabouts until about 1895, when he appears in Houston as junior partner in W. C. Stansfield & Co., a store selling pianos, organs, and sheet music. By 1897 the partnership had dissolved and Weiss was listed in the city directory as simply a music teacher. His fortunes declined further by the end of the century, and in the 1900–01 city directory he is listed as being with Perkins and Buchanan, operators of gambling establishments in the city. Ironically, Weiss was probably playing piano at gambling joints, making a living as Joplin did during his formative years. Weiss disappears from the Houston city directories at this point, and no record of his death has yet been located.
Theodore Albrecht, "Julius Weiss: Scott Joplin's First Piano Teacher," College Music Symposium 19.2 (Fall 1979). Lawrence S. Clayton and Joe W. Specht, eds., The Roots of Texas Music (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2003).